We left Walkers Creek camp in Far North Queensland and the bitumen at the start of the gravel section of the Burke Development Road heading east north east. This road runs for around 540km and is often closed for long periods of time during the wet season. This time around there was lots of dust and corrugations to start with especially with some four wheel drives speeding past us, no doubt on their way to the Cape. Then things settled down. The road was good in places but had really bad bull-dust patches in others. Despite all the dust there was very little ingress of dust into the van.
We saw a flock of 39 Brolgas on one side of the plain and a flock of 16 Sarus Cranes on the other. We saw Wedgetail Eagles, Crows, Rahjah Shelducks, Herons and a Bustard. Also saw a black pig and goanna crossing the road. We were surprised to see Screw Palms (Pandanus Spiralis) and a Fan Palm this far south and they reminded us of our days in the far north of the Northern Territory. Jeddah was in fine form barking at all the cattle and bushes on the side of the road.
We decided to go and have a look at the Mitchell River Crossing on the Koolatah Road as I had read some stories about it and the trouble other travellers had encountered on this crossing. The Koolatah Station access road ran up to the river but then promptly stopped dead at the crossing with very little indication as the where it might go from there . The road was graded but also had really bad bulldust patches and we had dust coming over the bonnet of the truck at one stage. Some tracks across the sand indicated that others had gone to search for a crossing and there was an enormous hole in the sand where something big had been bogged. We walked down to the fast running stream and cooled off in the waters of the river.
After Dunbar Station we started to turn east on our return journey to the south as we had reached as far north as we were going to this year. It was pretty hot all day especially with the air conditioner out of order. Must have it fixed before the next holiday! I started getting crotchety at about 2.30pm about camping and was looking out for a suitable place to pull off the road. We eventually left the Carpentaria Shire and into the Mareeba Shire and Highbury Station which had a NO! this NO! that sign at the grid. Friendly people!!! About 10km before Highbury Station we saw a road sign to Drumduff Station and decided to investigate it. This well-made road took us down to the Mitchell River and across the Hughes Crossing which is a concrete causeway.
Water over the crossing was just about quarter wheel height. We drove through and found places to camp on the northern banks but they were not near water. So we turned around and came back over the causeway and found a small opening in the riverbank right on the crossing. It was quite sandy but I drove forwards and backwards over the sand to harden the track up.
We both had a bush bath on the banks of the river, washed clothes, I refuelled with 60 litres of diesel and we topped up the vans water tank from our containers and refilled them from the river. Jeddah rustled up an old weather beaten Goanna from the river embankment and was keen to play but we called her back. The Goanna was about 5 foot long and it sauntered off for a drink of water and then waddled further on along the rivers edge and out of sight.
I found a cattle skull in the scrub and decided to float in down the river. This did not work as it sunk within 5 metres. However, a very large spider emerged from the skull and ran across the surface of the water towards the embankment. We tossed and turned all night. At first it was too hot and then later on in the night, too cool. Full moon shone through all open apertures on the van. It was like sleeping under a streetlight. Jeddah fell down like a bag of potatoes several times during the night whilst sleep walking. We were having morning coffees at 5.30am. Two utes had passed by early in the night going north and later a Road-train came past in the same direction. It was running rough and noisily and could be heard for quite a while after crossing the river. All three vehicles returned at around 6am. Jeddah sounded off the alarm as usual. Reversing out up and across the river bank was a non event at 7am as I had envisaged difficulty in doing so. I drove a little way and then pumped the tyres back up. The road continued to be good for about 50km and then started to deteriorate again. I rued pumping the tyres up but on the other hand could not be bothered to let them down again for the last hundred kilometres or do. So we endured a harder ride. We checked out numerous tracks and likely camp spots for future reference. Saw two Jabiru’s, two Bustards and mobs of Cattle. Went over a number of narrow river causeways.
Closer to Chillagoe we saw unusual Limestone Karst formations remnants of a coral reef millions of years ago. It was quite an eerie sight especially after driving across a seemingly endless plain of tropical savannah woodland.
At Chillagoe we went to The Hub and Jude booked into two Cave tours. I felt that I wasn’t up to crawling around caves and stayed in camp to keep Jeddah company. We paid $6 to stop at the Rodeo Grounds for the night. The showers were cold unless you were prepared to light the outside donkey fire and the toilets were ordinary but it was good enough for the money.We had our own hot shower anyway. I spoke with some locals and stated that it was such a beautiful quiet day. Their retort was that it was the one day in the year that the wind wasn’t blowing!!
After lunch I took Jude to the first caving tour of the Royal Arch Cave and I then went to look at the old smelters and a collection of Ford vehicles by Tom Prior.
Tom has a speech impediment and is most difficult to understand. He was quite an affable old bloke however and talked and talked about his beloved Fords and V8 engines. We got on really well. In and amongst his collection of vehicles he has a 1966 Shelby Mustang in showroom condition. His dog spotted Jeddah in the wagon and went off its brain. In the end both dogs were going off and we had to yell at them.
I went back to The Hub to get more maps and info and also the words to the ditty that proclaims the name of Chillagoe. The name of Chillagoe is derived from an old sea shanty and from the play Sinbad the Sailor and was named by the first pastoralist in the area. It goes like this;
Jobbity Hory Pory
And the meaning? Who knows? I have searched the internet for an answer but to no avail.
Then it was time to pick Jude up again but there was a delay as the tour was late. After that we went to Balancing Rock, a natural Limestone Karst formation.
There is some aboriginal art close at hand, some of which is very faded.
We had a good campfire that night and gobbled up the last of the Karumba prawns, which Jude had curried to perfection.
Donna Cave was the next tour on the list at 9am the following day and I went to the internet café and post office to do business. After the Donna Cave tour we drove out to The Arches and had a great time exploring them, even getting on to our knees to crawl through some apertures. The Art site was better than others in the area and we also went exploring Marble Stone sites and old townships.
After lunch we hooked up and took to the road again heading towards the coast.